Friday, April 23, 2004

Backstage

Concerts of any magnitude have always been fascinating to me, and the larger the production the more fascinated I am. Before coming to college, I had always been one of the audience, but over the past two years I've discovered the amusements of being the performer. Last night I performed with Choral Union in our culminating concert of the semester. Usually in performances I am entirely focused on performing the music and remembering everything I'm supposed to do, but last night I had to laugh as I realized the extreme contrast of what happens backstage compared to the performance on stage.

If you were in the audience last night you would have sat in a darkened auditorium, the lights would go up and you would see a black robed choir with over 250 voices file from four directions onto the stage. The conductor would then walk out, you would applaud, the orchestra would rise, the conductor would turn around, the choir would raise their folders, and you would hear the beginning of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Then, regardless of whether or not you enjoy Stravinsky, after 22 minutes you would hear the choir sing the last 'Dominum', you would applaud, the conductor would bow, the orchestra would rise, and the 250 people on stage would file out of view the way they came. Thus you would have witnessed yet another mass music production by Lee University.

Behind stage, however, there is grand confusion that the audience never sees or hears. 250 people are shuffling, whispering, stepping on each other's toes, and making all manner of faces as they try and organize themselves for entrance and exit in both a mass choir and individual choir orders. The signal to begin coming on stage always comes too soon, and there are invariably at least two people in each row who aren't where they're supposed to be. There is a wild dash and pushing past other choir members while the row waits until the last possible second, and by some miracle the lost person manages to make it into the appropriate place in line just in time to walk on stage. The choir members then walk on stage with slightly relieved and amused faces, knowing that they just barely pulled it off again and the audience never knew the difference.

That is, unless you have been in large choirs before and you happen to notice the row that has slightly rueful smiles on their faces or perhaps the gap in the row that's a little bigger than normal. You'll then know that something just happened backstage that no one but the choir will ever know. After all, that's half of performing: convincing your audience of only that which you want them to know, and artfully hiding the rest.

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